Using genetic analysis, scientists discover that a type of germ used for cleaning up toxic sites is actually many types of germs that gobble up different kinds of crud. This suggests that a smorgasbord of microbes could be customized for different applications – ranging from cleaning nuclear dump sites to powering future fuel cells.
"Soon we will be able to pick the right strain for cleaning specific environments," said Kostas Konstantinidis, an environmental microbiologist at Georgia Tech. "But we are in the beginning stages of this."
Konstantinidis and his colleagues focused on a bacterial genus known as Shewanella, which is found in a wide spectrum of ecosystems ranging from the Arctic to the Amazon. Their genetic analysis of 10 strains of Shewanella is being published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.